Republicans make strong showing in Pa.
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Republicans were putting on a strong showing across Pennsylvania tonight, claiming the governorship, leading for the U.S. Senate, and taking at least one Western Pennsylvania congressional seat held by a Democrat.
State Attorney General Tom Corbett defeated Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato for governor, with Mr. Onorato conceding around 10:30 p.m.
Former Congressman Pat Toomey began pulling ahead of U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak for Senate around the same time.
One-term Democratic House member Kathy Dahlkemper lost to Mike Kelly in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Earlier in the evening, Democrats continued to hold out hope that a stronger-than-expected mid-term election turnout, especially in Philadelphia, would boost their candidates. But a Republican tide rolling across the United States also washed over much of Pennsylvania.
No one was surprised by Mr. Corbett's win as they gathered at his party at the Omni William Penn in Downtown. Before the festivities, a state police detective ordered "everybody out" of the 17th floor ballroom so a bomb-sniffing dog could make its rounds before the festivities.
It was a notable change for a campaign that has been laid back, with usually only one bodyguard for the Republican hopeful, and a tangible sign that Mr. Corbett was poised to gain a higher profile.
Mr. Corbett was just waking from a power nap and supporters began straggling into the ballroom as the polls closed.
The Corbett forces appeared confident. Signs were tucked into a corner with slogans such as "Go Republican Governors" and a more partisan, "Onorato = 4 More Years of $pendell."
The tedium of the wait was broken briefly when Susan Corbett, the candidate's wife, stopped briefly to face a crush of reporters, cameras and microphones.
"It's an exciting day for both of us. I gave him a special gift," she said. The gift was a Swiss watch -- she didn't name the brand.
Across the river on the South Side, Pennsylvania's Democratic Party chairman said he was cheered by the voter turnout figures in Philadelphia. Jim Burn of Millvale was among the few dozen early arrivals at a party for Mr. Onorato at the IBEW Hall.
"Rendellian numbers mean both statewide races are in play," Mr. Burn said.
It appeared the Philadelphia citywide turnout would be as high as 41 percent, he projected. The "Rendellian" effect referred to the ability of Gov. Ed Rendell, a former Philly mayor, to get out the vote.
High turnout in that city was good news for both Mr. Onorato and for U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who battled Pat Toomey for the U.S. Senate seat.
There was more coffee being quaffed than booze at Mr. Sestak's Election Night party at the Ardmore Hotel in Delaware County.
A murmur went through the room as MSNBC pronounced Pennsylvania's Senate race too close to call as the polls closed, perhaps portending a long night. By 11:25, Mr. Toomey was ahead by 2 percent with 95 percent of the precincts counted.
At the Ardmore, campaign staff, volunteers and loyalists were tricking in, though they were far outnumbered by the hordes of press. The assembled, sticker-marked supporters ate finger foods and watched televisions turned to MSNBC, CNN and Fox News -- though the left-leaning crowd was mostly clustered around MSNBC.
Steve Kupsov, 67, of Havertown, predicted a "very close" race. A former Republican, he's volunteered for Mr. Sestak since his first U.S. House race in 2006. This time, Mr. Kupsov said, he encountered a lot of voters frustrated with the media and robocall campaigns mounted by both sides and frustrated with the way Washington is run.
"They were bombarded," he said.
But speaking one-on-one with voters, Mr. Kupsov said, helped guide them into Mr. Sestak's corner. He said turnout was surprisingly brisk in his Havertown polling place, and the retired teacher was bracing for a lengthy stay at the Ardmore.
But Mr. Toomey's supporters at his Election Night headquarters, didn't think it would take that long to learn the winner.
"Everybody I ran into is for Toomey," said George Zonko, a retired state trooper who voted in Schnecksville, northern Lehigh County.
Across the table from him at a ballroom in the Fogelsville Holiday Inn, Dutch Smith of East Allentown had a Toomey-for-Senate sticker plastered across his forehead.
"From what I saw (at the polls) Toomey's got it all wrapped up," said Mr. Smith, a real estate investor.
The party also drew Toomey supporters from midstate.
Lowman Henry cast his ballot in northern Dauphin County, another Republican area with a high turnout today.
"The people I saw weren't just doing their civic duty; they were there for a purpose," said Mr. Henry of the conservative Lincoln Institute for Public Opinion Research. That purpose, he said, was to cast votes for Mr. Toomey and Mr. Corbett.
Steve Ulrich, a self-described "tea partier" from Perry County said he also found purposeful Republican voters outside Harrisburg.
"Turnout was great for Republicans," he said. "The phrase I kept hearing was that Republicans were willing to climb over glass to get to the polls today and take the country back."
In York, Scott R. Wagner, president of Penn Waste spent little time at the polls but hours making campaign phone calls from his office.
"I've been helping for 18 months because I believe in Pat. I believe he is a genuine person and I believe he will bring tight government control," said Mr. Wagner, 55. "I'm tired of government continuing to raise taxes."
The Associated Press said reports from around Pennsylvania on Tuesday suggested that voters were showing stronger than expected interest in the election. That could also be seen at some polls in Western Pennsylvania.
Butler County Elections Director Sherry Brewer said poll workers reported they were "very busy. And that's a good thing."
In Cranberry, the county's most populous municipality, precincts were humming with activity during the day. One poll worker in Cranberry said the number of ballots being cast was approaching presidential election levels.
That was a prime battleground in the 40th state Senate District, which was won by incumbent Republican Jane Orie.
As the minutes ticked down to the closing of the polls tonight, Democrat Dan DeMarco -- challenging Ms. Orie -- sunk his hands deep into the pockets of a warm coat between handshakes as he courted voters in Cranberry, a GOP stronghold.
Outside the double-doors of the Cranberry Municipal Center, where a majority of township voters were assigned to cast their ballots today, Mr. DeMarco of Ross said he was heartened by some of the comments he heard from voters. "I even had a couple of Republicans tell me that they voted for me and that I was the first Democrat they had ever voted for," he said.
He spent time earlier in the day at polling places in Shaler and Ross.
Meanwhile, at about the same time this evening, Ms. Orie, who stands charged with using office resources to advance the Supreme Court campaign of her sister Justice Joan Orie Melvin, made her way through southern Butler County voting precincts, having spent the earlier part of the day in Allegheny County.
Orie campaign worker Josh Wilson said Ms. Orie had been receiving "very positive feedback" during her encounters with voters.
After the polls closed, Mr. DeMarco was heading to Silvioni's Restaurant on Babcock Boulevard in Ross. Ms. Orie was on her way to The Chadwick, off of Perry Highway in Wexford.
South of Butler County, there were more signs than people outside the Ben Avon volunteer fire station just after lunch. But that's not to say poll workers weren't busy: By 1:45 p.m., nearly 400 residents had cast their ballots, or nearly a third of all registered voters in District 1 and District 2, which share the polling place.
William Trondle, a staunch Republican who has missed only one primary election in the 43 years he's lived in the borough, offered this explanation:
"We want to see a few changes, that's for sure."
His wife, Nancy, who also said she voted a straight Republican ticket, was voter no. 279 in District 1. "Last time, I was no. 72" when she voted about the same time of day.
It wasn't just in the neighborhoods that people turned out to vote. The county's young people also took advantage of their right to participate in the selection of a government.
At the University of Pittsburgh, a student polling place in Posvar Hall was inundated by 2:30 p.m. About 100 people lined up to vote. Some said they had been waiting for more than 45 minutes.
"This is like the presidential election," said judge of elections Alethea Sims, breathlessly trying to move voters through.
Michael Woodhull, a 20-year-old Pitt junior from Washington, D.C., said the scene stood in stark contrast to the last election in which he voted: He showed up about 2 p.m. and hardly anyone was there.
Looking at the line today, he said, "I'm really surprised by this."
Mr. Woodhull said he votes in every election he can.
"It affects me, what politicians say," he said.
Back in the suburbs, a polling place in Ross' 8th Ward was busier than expected for a mid-term election. Election workers said lots of people come out for presidential elections, not so many for the typical mid-term.
By 10:30 a.m., 81 people had cast ballots at the main municipal center, double the number poll workers usually see by that hour at that location.
"We had people waiting at quarter to 7. That's unusual," said Marianne Kappas, judge of elections. "Turnout has been good."
By 3:30 p.m., 182 residents had cast ballots. Another 120 or so were expected by the end of the night.
Election workers attributed the turnout to dissatisfaction with Washington and the economic condition of the country. Ms. Kappas said many voters seemed to have cast straight-party ballots, based on the fact that many asked how to go about it. She couldn't say which way they voted.
But one 75-year-old resident was happy to reveal what she did. She didn't want to see her name in the paper, she said, but she and her husband, 76, cast a straight-party vote for the Republicans, even though both are lifelong Democrats who have never before voted for a Republican.
"First time ever," she said. "We're just not happy with the way things are going."
By way of example, she said, her daughter had lost her home to foreclosure after her husband lost his job.
Exit polling done by the Associated Press found that the economy was by far the issue most affecting voters.
By 5:45 p.m., the Pleasant Hills Volunteer Fire Company polling place was up to 175 voters.
Mark Rickard, the judge of elections there, expected a turnout of about 50 percent of the 475 registered voters before the polls closed.
Generally, the site gets a late rush about 7 p.m.
"They've been coming in pretty steady," said Margaret Walter, the minority inspector.
In the meantime, the poll workers busied themselves throughout the day by eating.
There was chili, a vegetable tray, cheese and crackers, apple pie and zucchini bread.
Mr. Rickard brought meatballs.
"My little Italian grandma taught me well," he said.
To accommodate the voters, the company's fire trucks were parked outside. They only got one call that brought firefighters rushing in during the day -- someone had burned toast.
Headed home from work at the state Department of Public Welfare, Mary Ann Bonner stopped at the fire station to cast her ballot.
"I came to vote, primarily, for Sestak because I think Pat Toomey is dangerous for America."
She cast a straight Democratic ballot, but Ms. Bonner said it wasn't just out of party loyalty.
"They're all informed decisions," she said.
Voting in general went smoothly in Allegheny County, making for a slow day for the elections court, which takes complaints about voting problems or irregularities.
As of 3 p.m., the worst complaint it had received was from a Highland Park woman who was mad because her polling place would not allow her to bring her dog inside with her.
It was not a service dog.
First Published November 2, 2010 7:00 am